Bobby Olson, Los Angeles
Real estate lawyer
Laid off from Sidley Austin in March 2009
When I got laid off in March 2009, they told me they were giving me four months’ severance. My friend and I decided, look, we might as well take this opportunity to travel while they’re giving us these crazy sums of money we didn’t deserve in the first place, you know what I’m saying? As a first-year associate it was like, I’m making how much? Are you joking? It was nice. We took advantage of it. Then I came back and was looking for firm gigs, but it’s hard. There were plenty of other lawyers looking for jobs who hadn’t been laid off. I couldn’t really find anything. I started looking for contract gigs, and that was a pain. I did a cost-benefit analysis and realized that with what I was making in unemployment, it didn’t make sense for me to take a contract gig. I feel bad about it, but it was true. If they’re giving me that much money to not sit in an empty conference room, why would I do that?
Then, around February 2010, I was going on a ski trip with my dad, and he had been trying to get me to join his construction and real estate development company for a long time. [Olson had been a real estate lawyer at Sidley.] But it was in Orange County. And I really didn’t want to move to Orange County. He was like, look, we’ll do a 90-day trial. So I did, and I really liked it. I was general counsel there. I was really thrown into the fire. They had previously had an outside counsel who was a solo practitioner and basically handled everything. It was great for me because I had him as a mentor to help me through a lot of stuff. I got a lot of experience in a very short amount of time.
After a couple of years, the commute and working with family were a little too much. I decided I didn’t want to do it. So I left in the middle of last year and tried to open up a beer and wine shop here in Venice Beach. I wouldn’t be making much money but it would be something more aligned with my interests than commercial mortgage–backed securities. I don’t, like, read about that stuff on the weekends. I went through that whole process and ultimately, we were right there really on the point of committing, but I didn’t see eye to eye with my business partner on a number of different things. I decided not to go forward with it. So I decided to look for lawyer jobs again.
[When his mentor was called as a reference for a contract job Olson applied for, he contacted Olson with a better offer—coming to work with him at a real estate firm in Irvine that needed a senior-level associate to help expand its transactional practice.] They’ll only pay me based on what I bill, but that’s fine for me. I don’t think I’m going to get 40-plus billable hours a week, but if I get 20 to 30, the idea is that I use the rest of my time to build a practice up here, to
try to get clients up here,
and ultimately have my own practice. That’s where I’m at. It’s a little intimidating.—as told to Sara Randazzo